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Qualitative study design



Human artefact that contains information. This can include personal documents such as diaries, letters, photographs, video recordings and official documents such as hospital or medical records or minutes of meetings.  With the development of technology, computer files can be counted as documents. Documents may be used in different methodologies but especially in historical research. 

There are two categories: 

  • Unsolicited – documents from archives and other organisations. 

  • Solicited – getting participants to complete a diary or complete medical tests or record other information using audio or video recording.


  • Searching official archives
  • Checking hospital records
  • Watching videos
  • Listening to oral recordings
  • Reading personal diaries, letters etc.



strengths Strengths

  • Authenticity of the information especially for unsolicited documents. 

  • Flexibility – information can be used in combination with other data sources.

  • Lack of reactivity as the presence of a researcher or an observer may impact on the data being collected. 

  • Documents are more readily available.  


limitations Limitations

  • ‘Secondhand data’ - information contained in the documents may not have been originally created with research in mind. For example: clinical records may have information missing and thus are not able to be used for research. Records may contain the data required by the organisation, but this doesn’t mean that it contains the information required for a research study (Saks and Allsop 2013, p.76). 

  • Need to be aware of privacy concerns. 

  • Copyright issues. 

  • Data not entered correctly or missing. 

  • Translation of foreign documents. 


iconExample questions

  • How has the experience of stroke changed over the past 300 years in the UK?
  • How do nurses manage risk in everyday practice?


iconExample studies

  • Spalding, R., Zimmerman, T., Fruhauf, C., Banning, J., & Pepin, J. (2010). Relationship Advice in Top-Selling Men's Magazines: A Qualitative Document Analysis. Journal of Feminist Family Therapy, 22(3), 203-224. doi:10.1080/08952833.2010.503795 


  • Padgett, D. (2012). Qualitative and mixed methods in public health. Los Angeles: SAGE. 
  • Saks, M., & Allsop, J. (2012). Researching health: qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods (2nd ed.). London: SAGE.